Record-Breaking Bayern & More: What to Watch for in Bundesliga Round 15
There are just three weeks of the Bundesliga left before the German league's traditional winter break, and matchday 15 promises to be pivotal for many of its contestants.
Second-placed Leverkusen visit third-placed Dortmund as both teams prepare for next week's Champions League fixtures.
On the topic of the Champions League, Schalke will try to edge closer to the league's fourth spot in Europe's greatest club competition as they visit Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Atop the table, Bayern Munich will visit Bremen where they will aim to extend their outstanding run of form and perhaps pull further clear of Leverkusen and Dortmund.
Without further ado, click "Begin Slideshow" for the analysis of what to be on the lookout for in the Bundesliga this weekend.
Champions League Dress Rehearsal for Dortmund, Schalke and Leverkusen
With no team having clinched first place in their Champions League group, Bayern, Dortmund, Leverkusen and Schalke will enter Round 15 with an eye on their critical midweek fixtures.
Only Bayern have qualified for the Round of 16, and they still could finish runners-up to Manchester City should the English side beat them by a significant enough margin at the Allianz Arena. Although such a loss is unlikely, Pep Guardiola will be wary to have a strong first XI on hand for a clash that at the very least will be for prestige.
Dortmund faced an uphill battle with two group stage fixtures left and passed their first hurdle against Napoli, but still have it all to do as they take on Marseille at the Stade Velodrome. The French have nothing to play for, but BVB will be away from home and have at times failed to take their chances: They will want to be sharp this weekend, especially after missing several chances against Saarbruecken on Tuesday.
BVB will take on Leverkusen over the weekend in a clash of the Bundesliga's second- and third-placed teams. And complicating things further, B04 will also have an eye on next week's action as they look to overcome a one-point deficit to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Leverkusen's destiny is not in their own hands; they will need a better result in Sociedad than the Ukrainians earn away to Manchester United. And after their 5-0 thrashing by United just over a week ago, Sami Hyypia's side will be desperate for a positive result ahead of the Sociedad match.
Schalke's situation is similar to that of Leverkusen, with the Gelsenkirchen needing to overcome a one-point deficit against Basel in the final matchday. S04 have destiny in their own hands, though, as they take on the Swiss at home. Jens Keller's men were eliminated from the DFB-Pokal via a 3-1 drubbing by Hoffenheim on Tuesday and will need some momentum as they take on a Basel side that twice beat Chelsea earlier in the group stage.
After decades of mediocrity, Borussia Moenchengladbach are on the rise. Lucien Favre led the Fohlen to a fourth-placed finish two seasons ago and now his side are on course to repeat the feat in 2013-14.
Gladbach are the Bundesliga's best team over the last five matchdays, having won all of their fixtures and scoring 12 goals while conceding just two. They, along with Bayern, are one of two Bundesliga teams with a perfect home record: With seven wins from as many games, 21 goals scored and just four conceded, Gladbach are one of Europe's toughest teams to face away from home.
Favre's men face a challenge in guests Schalke, but have the opportunity to open a seven-point lead over the Gelsenkirchen side, who have looked extremely fragile in recent weeks and will have an eye on their midweek Champions League fixture against Basel. Saturday could be a huge match for the in-form Gladbach as they look to become the force they were in the 1970s.
Klopp's XI Against Leverkusen
Right now it's very difficult to determine exactly what Jurgen Klopp's best XI is. The Dortmund trainer has been forced to manage with a plague of injuries to his usual starters, and the likes of Manuel Friedrich, Sebastian Kehl and Lukasz Piszczek are short of match practice.
Dortmund have a huge Champions League game against Marseille next week, but first comes a pivotal clash with Leverkusen. With Klopp having rested many of his stars in Tuesday's match against Saarbruecken, he should have his choice of starters to play against both Leverkusen and Marseille.
The question is: Does Klopp go with Piszczek at right-back, or stick with Kevin Grosskreutz? And how about the centre-backs: Sokratis and Friedrich, Kehl or Sven Bender? We will likely know both lineups on Saturday.
Bayern Munich to Challenge Yet Another Record
Over the course of the 2005 calendar year, Bayern Munich won 28 Bundesliga games. In 2013, they have equaled that tally with three fixtures to spare. On Saturday they visit 13th-placed Werder Bremen with the chance to make history, an occurrence that as of late has become regular.
Bayern will have to do without Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm on Saturday, but will welcome back Franck Ribery. Pep Guardiola will have a strong squad available to face a Bremen side that have a negative goal difference at home.
Should Bayern win, they will reach the 90-point mark for the calendar year. With three games left to play, the Bavarians are undefeated for well over a year, and have only dropped points three times in 2013. The list of accolades goes on and on, but in summary, this Bayern team is really, really good and always worth a watch.